Are you ready to go racing? You’ve been working all winter, putting in countless hours on the trainer and following your training plan with precision, but now it’s time to really see what you’ve got. While your FTP is always a good indication of where your fitness is at, it isn’t everything when it comes to predicting how prepared to race you are. There’s no question that the focused and uninterrupted hard work of indoor, structured training is the best route for building fitness, but how do you take that fitness and translate it into real results out on the road or trail?
As a mountain bike racer, the things I’m going to be discussing in this article are absolutely paramount in order to be successful on the dirt. Still, these methods translate across all genres of cycling, from road to triathlon. Let’s get into it:
It sounds obvious, but in order to win a bike race you need to know how to ride a bike. Surprisingly enough, this is overlooked far too often.
Many cyclists get so wrapped up in numbers alone, they forget to work on both skill and tactics, forcing them to work twice as hard as their competitors and not race to their full potential when they line up to their first event of the year.
Just like how you block out time for those structured, indoor workouts, block out some time throughout the week to jump on the road or trail and work on your handling.
What to do:
What type of racing do you do? What is the terrain like at your primary events this season? Do you struggle in any particular areas of your bike handling? Ask yourself these questions first and then schedule a few days throughout the week to seek out the best terrain to ride for you based upon your answers to these questions.
Using myself as an example, I’m a mountain bike racer who races Pro XC Tour events on tight/technical trails with steep elevation changes. I feel as though my speed through loose corners could be better.
With this in mind, on my “hard days” I like to get my intervals done in the morning on the trainer. Then later in the afternoon I will either shuttle or ride easy to the top of my favorite trails with plenty of technical, loose corners and simply work on my technique and skill.
The goal of this second ride is not to train my fitness, but to train my bike handling. If you’re following a TrainerRoad training plan, be sure to still follow the structure of the plan by honoring the recovery days.
Now I know this sounds like it is only necessary for off road riders, but it’s just as important for road and triathlon. Working on things like line choice and cornering, carrying speed into hills and corners to save energy, pedaling on rough road surfaces, or riding in groups can be hugely beneficial come race day.
Your bike and gear may be dialed for your indoor rides, but once you take to the open road/trail it’s a totally different story. There are 3 specific areas I like to focus on most when it comes to prepping equipment for race day.
Your fit may seem perfect when locked into the trainer, but this isn’t always the case once you take your bike outdoors. Changes of grade, wind, rough trail/road, the free movement of the bike beneath you, etc. can all affect your fit and might force you to reconsider your current set up.
Use your “bike skills days” as discussed above as an opportunity to also hone in your fit. This will make sure that you are confident going into race day that your bike is setup so that you can get optimal performance, while also comfortably stay in the saddle for the entire event.
A bike that has been on the trainer all winter is almost certainly in need of a little tender love and care before it’s first expedition outdoors. Check all of your bolts, brakes, cables, suspension, tires, etc. before hitting the road or trail. Continue to do this for the first couple of rides back outside, as things can quickly change or come undone when you introduce outdoor riding to the bike again.
Again, your bike may be completely dialed for riding indoors, but how is it set up for your target events this year? Consider things like tread patterns and rubber compounds of your tires, handlebar bend or positioning, grips or bar tape, pedals, saddle choice and positioning and gearing selection.
As you work on your bike handling in preparation for your first race, you want your bike to be as “race ready” as possible, which means setting it up exactly how you plan to race it. Are you going to encounter huge hills that will require a different front chainring? Will there be rough roads that will require more substantial tires? Do you need some wider handlebars to muscle the bike through some fast berms?
When you train indoors, you essentially only have 2 elements of “weather” to deal with: the temperature of your home, and the speed of your fan. Unfortunately bike racing isn’t quite as simple as that.
Depending on what the weather patterns are usually like for the areas of your target events this season, you want to emulate these conditions as best you can through some outdoor riding before race day in order to be best prepared.
In some cases, finding similar weather conditions to ride in near your home for your target event is simply impossible. When this is the case, you have to get creative in your preparation.
For example, I reside in Reno, Nevada, which has a fairly chilly winter season with temps ranging from 30-40 degrees F. However, my first races of the year are in March in sunny Southern California which can see temps in the 90’s that time of year.
In order to prepare, I do all indoor workouts without a fan in the weeks leading up to racing. Further, I try to hit a “hot yoga” class at least once per week in order to expose myself to the heat. Lastly, I try to make several trips over to California to do some riding in the sun before race day.
I know many of you are going into 2015 with your highest FTP ever. With these tips, all of that hard work should pay off in your best season ever. Good luck and keep us posted on your success!